To our sisters and brothers in the Diocese of Gloucester …
This week, we have spent a further three days with the Bishops of the Church of England in a penultimate gathering before General Synod meets in early February 2023. The letter sent in November following the previous meeting can be read here.
There is still one more gathering of bishops in January and we wish to wait until the end of the agreed Living in Love and Faith process before we share something more personal regarding our own views.
As in November, our time together as the College of Bishops was rooted in worship, scripture and prayer as we continue to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit and walk together even in our places of difference. Once again, it was good to have a number of people with us who brought a variety of lived-experience into the room. The Church of England press release about the meeting of the College of Bishops can be found here.
We want to repeat our sadness regarding the hurt felt by many people who identify as LGBTQ+ and want to publicly reiterate our sense of shame that brothers and sisters in Christ continue to feel hidden, unwelcomed, judged and discussed rather than celebrated as treasured members of the body of Christ, with names and stories. We want to say sorry and repent of our part in that as bishops, and we want to thank you for continuing to walk with us.
To those who are concerned that there is the possibility of bishops reaching decisions which are not biblical, we want to say that we are committed to being faithful to scripture. One of the key issues for us all is how we interpret scripture, led by the Holy Spirit, clear that it is God’s living and active word speaking to us as we seek to be faithful to Christ and navigate what it means to proclaim the gospel afresh in each generation.
Unsurprisingly, a spectrum of perspectives remains.
At our consecration we both promised with God’s help to ‘promote peace and reconciliation in the Church and in the world’ and to ‘strive for the visible unity of Christ’s Church’. This commitment to Christ’s call that we should be one (John 17:20-23) is not about bringing everyone to a place of agreement but it is about ensuring that, as Christian brothers and sisters, we continue to walk together even in places of deep disagreement.
It is important that members of our worshipping communities, not least our lay and ordained leaders, can hold and express different views as a matter of conscience, whilst always treating one another with love, respect and humility: ‘Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus …’. (Philippians 2:3-4)
The image of the vine in John 15 is a powerful one. Christ is the vine and we are the branches. We are called to abide in Christ, and we cannot choose the branches which surround us. We belong together because of our belonging to the Vine. It is perhaps poignant for us all to recall Christ’s words in John 15:16: ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit …’.
Furthermore, we hope that in places in which people find themselves consciously or subconsciously judging others, that there will be an attentiveness to the fruit – not only in people’s own lives but also in the lives of those who hold different views and have different lived experience.
Finally, we know that newspaper headlines and social media posts will spark many reactions, and it is our prayer that people will listen deeply to what is actually said in the weeks ahead, rather than quickly respond to the inevitable array of soundbites.
As we listen to the song of the Christmas angels and look to the final bringing in of God’s kingdom, when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, may our hearts be enlarged by the love of the Word made flesh who lived among us and gave power to all who received him, who believed in his name, to become children of God (John 1:12-14). One day we will each see face to face, but now we see only in a mirror dimly (1 Cor 13:12).
We wish you a hope-filled and peaceful Christmas as we continue to give thanks for you and hold you in our prayers.
Bishop Rachel and Bishop Robert